Choosing a book and other things

First of all, my race report: same as last week, basically. Yay! We rode 24 miles and finished in about 55 minutes; I stayed with the pack the entire time and finished somewhere in the middle. I do have things I want to work on (like staying closer to the front of the pack), but that’s the kind of finish I’m very happy with these days.

But I entitled this post “choosing a book” because I’ve been thinking about how much I enjoyed Denis Johnson’s story collection Jesus’ Son and how surprising that might seem because it’s so different from what I usually read. I picked it up because of a friend’s recommendation, but this isn’t a friend I always agree with when it comes to books, and I got the recommendation a long time ago, and I’m not sure why it stuck with me. And I had no idea why this friend recommended it and what the book was about when I bought it. So these weren’t the most auspicious circumstances.

But it makes me think I should choose books in this almost random kind of way a little more often — to take more risks. It’s so easy to make judgments about what a book will be like and whether I will like it or not, based on criteria like what the book looks like, what I’ve heard about it through the media, things I know about the author. But it’s such a pleasure to be surprised, isn’t it? To find out that the book is nothing like what we thought? Or that if it is like what we thought, that we’re surprised by how much we like it?

Here are some of my recent choices, some typical of what I usually read, some not: I finished Anita Brookner’s Leaving Home recently, and I hope to post on it soon — this is fairly typical of what I turn to frequently — contemporary fiction, thoughtful, character-driven, about ideas. I just began Eileen Chang’s Love in a Fallen City, which is a bit of a departure, although not a huge one — mainly it’s a departure because it’s not British or American, and it’s made up of novellas and stories, when I usually choose novels. I also received A.J.A. Symons The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography in the mail today through Bookmooch; this is even more of a departure because I have no idea who A.J.A. Symons is, no idea who Corvo is, and little idea what is meant by “an experiment in biography.” But I read about it in a Michael Dirda book and was intrigued, and, although I have little idea when I’ll actually pick it up, I’m excited about it.

I suppose there’s no sure-fire way to make surprises like Jesus’ Son happen more frequently, except to stay open to suggestions from unusual places and to try to develop courage as a reader.

Oh, and one more thing: if you’re a participant in the Slaves of Golconda book group (or want to be one — new readers are always welcome!), check out Imani’s choices for the next book and vote on what you’d like to read.  She’s got some great possibilities.

12 Comments

Filed under Books

12 responses to “Choosing a book and other things

  1. Congrats on a good race! It is fun to step outside the usual book choice isn’t it? Even if the book ends up not being spectacular (unless it is really, really bad) I feel as though I’ve stretched a little and made it just that much more likely to be willing to try something new.

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  2. I tend to stay within my own reading comfort zone. I am willing to pick up a book I have not heard of or an unknown author, but still the setting is usually one that I prefer or the story one that I enjoy. I am always writing down recommendations, but I am not always quick to go and read the book!! I need to do that often as well as when the suggestion comes from a trusted source I am sure I am likely to enjoy it (even if it is outside my comfort zone). I think that is why I like book groups–that is the one time I am likely to pick up whatever is chosen whether it is something I would read or not!! I need to decide on one Imani’s books–too!

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  3. Oh–and looking forward to hearing about the Brookner book!

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  4. hepzibah

    I actually need to take more risks, as you say, in my own reading. I always read American, and never British… When I find an author that I paticulariy like, I tend to read all of their books, and I realize that I need to extend those boundaries. Right now I am reading The Color of Water, and it is an unexpected delight, it is an memoir about a black boy who had a white mother and a black father, and the mystery and fear of his mother’s whiteness….I will write a post about it when i am done, so maybe you’ll decide to read it…but I don’t think this is out of my reading zone, since I love African American literature….

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  5. hepzibah

    Also, I wanted to say that I feel the same way about living in your head, and I feel as though I am too sealed off from people and new places, and I hope to change that someday, maybe not now, but someday🙂

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  6. Way to go on doing so well in the race. Thank you for the reminder to vote for the Slaves’ next choice.

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  7. I agree Stefanie — even if I don’t like something new, I’m generally glad I tried it, for the sake of the experience. Danielle — good point about book groups; they make it much easier to read new things and to take risks. I’m not sure if Brookner is “your” kind of book or not, but I suspect you’d like it. Hepzibah, I look forward to your post; I don’t read much African American literature, so I should take inspiration from you and read more of it. And about living in your head — I do think that change is possible, over time. Oh, and the Brookner novel I just posted about, Leaving Home, deals with that very subject … Iliana — thank you! I’m excited to hear what the Slaves will be reading next.

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  8. LK

    Bravo, congrats! I admire anyone who can sweat and run machinery at the same time.

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  9. Well you know that bookblogs are mainly responsible for my reading now! It’s reading someone else’s enthusiastic and insightful post on a book that finishes me off. I do feel I’ve read far more adventurously and enjoyed my reading enormously since I’ve been blogging.

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  10. I’m with Litlove, bookblogs are having a huge impact on me these days. However, this is the first year in which I’ve actually been trying to do more than ad-hoc read (in other words, I’ve got some specific goals for the year, which I’ve never had in the past), and I’m finding it very difficult at times to stick to my plans (especially when reading all the blogs).

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  11. Thanks LK! Yeah, Litlove and Emily, book blogs have done that to me too — I’ve read more widely because of them and I’m very grateful for it!

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  12. Good going on the cycling. That is wonderful!

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